Ralph Vaughan Williams

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Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams (born October 12, 1872 in Down Ampney , Gloucestershire , † August 26, 1958 in London ) was an English composer and conductor .


Vaughan Williams - son of a clergyman († 1875) - grew up in Leith Hill Place ( Surrey ) and received his first music lessons from an aunt. After his school days at the elite English school Charterhouse School , he studied from 1890 at the Royal College of Music in London with Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford , then from 1892 to 1895 when Charles Wood at the Trinity College of Cambridge University and in 1896 again in London, where his close friendship with Gustav Holst began. In addition, he took lessons from Max Bruch in Berlin in 1897 , in the same year he married Adeline Fisher.

From 1896 to 1899 Vaughan Williams worked as an organist in London . Soon he was busy collecting and publishing English folk songs ( Bushes and Briars , 1903) and also discovered the English music of the Renaissance for himself. Both influenced his compositional style considerably. In 1905 he became musical director of the Leith Hill Musical Festival (until 1953), in 1906 he published a new church hymn book , The English Hymnal . In 1908 he stayed in Paris to take further lessons from Maurice Ravel .

In 1910 his first major work, A Sea Symphony , was published later on, his first symphony, but actually a huge cantata for solos, choir and orchestra based on words by Walt Whitman . In the same year one of his most popular works was published, the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis . The song cycle On Wenlock Edge followed in 1911, followed by his second symphony, A London Symphony , in 1913 . The German premiere at the German Opera House in Berlin was conducted by Ignatz Waghalter .

In the First World War Vaughan Williams served in France as a soldier. The noise of the guns damaged his hearing, leading to deafness in later years. His deeply felt impressions of these years are reflected above all in the third symphony, the Pastoral Symphony for soprano and orchestra, which was sketched in 1916 but not performed until 1922. In 1919 he became a composition teacher at the Royal College of Music in London (until 1938), and from 1920 to 1928 he directed the London Bach Choir. He also appeared more and more frequently as a conductor of his own works.

Vaughan Williams received numerous awards in the following years. Its fame increased with the ballet Job (1930) based on the biblical story of Job , the fourth symphony (1935) and symphonies 5 (1943) and 6 (1947) from the years of the Second World War . In 1940 Vaughan Williams also wrote his first film music with 49th Parallel .

In 1944 Vaughan Williams composed A Song of Thanksgiving as a commission for the BBC . Under the original title Thanksgiving for Victory , the piece was recorded in the final weeks of World War II and broadcast on the occasion of a radio thanksgiving service on May 13, 1945.

For the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II , Vaughan Williams wrote an arrangement of the chorale All people that on earth do dwell , a version of Psalm 100 with the melody The Old 100th ascribed to Louis Bourgeois as an offertory (song to bring gifts). The composer had planned that, for the first time in centuries, not only a choir, but also the congregation should sing along at the coronation, with the gathering of peers joining the singing in unison in the concluding doxology To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost . The Lords could not meet the unusual demands, but the piece did not fail to have an effect on the listener.

However, his operas were less successful . Neither Hugh the Drover , which premiered in 1924 but began in 1910 , and Sir John in Love (1929), another setting of Shakespeare's Falstaff material , remained in the repertoire.

For Vaughan Williams, however, the greatest disappointment of his career as a composer was the poor reception of the oratorio opera The Pilgrim's Progress (1951) after John Bunyan , on which he had worked for over forty years. In the same year his wife Adeline died after a long and serious illness. In 1953 he married Ursula Wood (1911–2007). Among the works of recent years, the seventh symphony Sinfonia Antartica (1952), which was based on the film music Scott of the Antarctic , and the late ninth symphony (1957) stand out. In 1949 Williams was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters , in 1953 an honorary member of the International Society for Contemporary Music ISCM and in 1957 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences .

After Vaughan Williams 'death, his ashes were buried in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey , London .


See also Category: Work by Ralph Vaughan Williams


  • The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains (1921, WP 1922; incorporated into The Pilgrim's Progress )
  • Hugh the Drover, or Love in the Stocks . Romantic ballad opera (1910-1914, WP 1924)
  • On Christmas night . Masque with dancing, singing and miming (1926, WP 1926)
  • Sir John in Love (1924–1928, WP 1929)
  • The Poisoned Kiss . Romantic extravaganza (1927–1929, WP 1936)
  • Riders to the Sea (1925-1932, WP 1937)
  • The Bridal Day . Masque (1938–1939, edited 1952–1953, WP 1953)
  • The Pilgrim's Progress . Morality (completed 1949, premiere 1951)



Concerts and concert works

  • The Lark Ascending for violin and small orchestra (1914)
  • Concerto Accademico in D minor for violin and strings (1924–1925)
  • Flos Campi . Suite for viola, choir and small orchestra (1926; for the term flos campi see Rose von Scharon )
  • Piano Concerto (1933; 1946 arranged for 2 pianos and orchestra)
  • Suite for viola and small orchestra (1934)
  • Concerto for oboe and strings in A minor (1944)
  • Romance for harmonica, strings and piano (1953)
  • Concerto for bass tuba and orchestra in F minor (1954)

Further orchestral works

  • In the Fen Country . Symphonic impression (1904/35)
  • Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 (1905-06)
  • The Wasps . Drama Music (1909)
  • Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for double string orchestra (1910/19)
  • The Running Set (1933)
  • Fantasia on Greensleeves (1934)
  • 2 Hymn-tune Preludes for small orchestra (1936)
  • Five Variants of "Dives and Lazarus" for strings and harp (1939)
  • Partita for double string orchestra (1946–1948)
  • Concerto grosso for strings (1950)
  • Prelude on an Old Carol Tune (1953)

Chamber music

  • String Quartet in C minor (1898, unpublished)
  • Piano quintet (vl, vla, vlc, kb, pf) in C minor (1903)
  • String Quartet No. 1 in G minor (1908-09 / 1921)
  • Phantasy Quintet for string quintet (1912)
  • Romance and Pastorale for violin and piano (1923)
  • Six Studies in English Folksong for violoncello and piano (1927)
  • Household Music. 3 Preludes on Welsh hymn tunes for string quartet (1924)
  • String Quartet No. 2 in A minor (1944)
  • Violin Sonata in A minor (1956)

Piano music

  • Suite of Six Short Pieces (1921)
  • Hymn Tune Prelude on Gibbons' Song 13 (1930)
  • Canon and Two-part Invention (1934)
  • Valse Lente and Nocturne (1934)
  • Introduction and Fugue for 2 pianos (1946)
  • The Lake in the Mountains (1947)

Organ music

  • Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes (1920)
  • Prelude and Fugue in C minor (1921)
  • Two Preludes on Welsh Folksongs (1956)

Song cycles

  • The House of Life (1903)
  • Songs of Travel (1907) based on texts by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • On Wenlock Edge for tenor, piano and string quartet (1911)
  • Four Hymns for tenor, piano and viola obbligato (1915)
  • Four Poems by Fredegond Shove (1925)
  • Two Poems by Seamus O'Sullivan (1925)
  • Three Poems by Walt Whitman (1925)
  • Three Songs from Shakespeare (1925)
  • Along the Field for voice and violin (1927; edited 1954)
  • Seven Songs from "The Pilgrim's Progress" (1952)
  • Ten Blake Songs for Voice and Oboe (1957)
  • Four Last Songs based on poems by Ursula Vaughan Williams (1954–1958)
  • numerous other individual songs as well as folksong arrangements - including "Three Vocalises" for soprano and clarinet (1958)

Choral works

  • Toward the Unknown Region after Walt Whitman for choir and orchestra (1905-06)
  • Willow-wood . Cantata for baritone (mezzo-soprano), female choir and orchestra (1908-09)
  • Five Mystical Songs for baritone, choir and orchestra (1911)
  • Fantasia on Christmas Carols for baritone, choir and orchestra (1912)
  • Mass in G minor for solos (SATB) and double choir (1920–1921)
  • Sancta civitas . Oratorio for tenor, baritone, choir and orchestra (1923–1925)
  • Te Deum in G major for choir and orchestra (organ) (1928)
  • Benedicite for soprano, choir and orchestra (1929)
  • The 100th Psalm in C minor for choir and orchestra (1929)
  • Three Choral Hymns for baritone (tenor), choir and orchestra (1929)
  • Magnificat for alto, female choir and orchestra (1932)
  • Five Tudor portraits . Choral Suite for alto (mezzo-soprano), baritone, choir and orchestra (1935)
  • Dona nobis pacem . Cantata for soprano, baritone, choir and orchestra (1936)
  • Festival Te Deum for choir and orchestra (organ) (1937)
  • Serenade to Music for 16 soloists (or 4 soloists and choir) and orchestra (1938)
  • A Song for Thanksgiving for soprano, speaker, choir and orchestra (1944)
  • An Oxford Elegy for speaker, small choir and small orchestra (1947–1949)
  • The Sons of Light . Cantata for choir and orchestra (1950)
  • Hodie . Christmas cantata for soprano, tenor, baritone, choir and orchestra (1953–1954)
  • numerous other choral works, some with orchestra, organ or piano accompaniment, some unaccompanied, based on secular and sacred texts, also many carols and arrangements of English folk songs

Film music

  • 49th Parallel (1940-1941)
  • Coastal Command (1942)
  • The People's Land (1943)
  • The Story of a Flemish Farm (1943)
  • Knitting Peninsula (1944)
  • The Loves of Joanna Godden
  • Scott's Last Voyage ( Scott of the Antarctic ) (1948)
  • Dim Little Island (1949)
  • Bitter Springs (1950)
  • The England of Elizabeth (1955)
  • The Vision of William Blake (1957)

For wind orchestra (military and brass band )

  • English Folk Songs - 1923 (Suite for Military Band)
  • Sea Songs - 1923 (speed march for military and brass bands)
  • Concerto Grosso - 1924 (for Military Band)
  • Toccata Marziale - 1924 (for Military Band)
  • Henry the Fifth - 1933 (Overture for Brass Band)
  • The Golden Vanity - 1933 (March for Military Band)
  • Flourish of Trumpets for a Folk Dance Festival - 1935 (for brass band)
  • England's Pleasant Land - 1938
  • Flourish for Wind Band - 1939
  • Prelude on Three Welsh Hymn Tunes - 1955
  • Variations for Brass Band - 1957 (for Brass Band)



  • Michael Jameson: Ralph Vaughan Williams. An Essential Guide to his Life and Works . Pavilion Books, London 1997.
  • Jan Zimmermann: The FVS Foundation's Culture Awards 1935–1945. Presentation and documentation. Edited by the Alfred Toepfer Foundation FVS Christians, Hamburg 2000.
  • Simon Heffer: Vaughan Williams , Faber and Faber, London 2008, ISBN 978-0-571-24575-8 .
  • Ulrich Tadday (Ed.): Ralph Vaughan Williams (= music concepts, special volume). Edition Text + Criticism, Munich 2018, ISBN 978-3-86916-712-1 .

Web links

Commons : Ralph Vaughan Williams  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Moore, Jerrold Northrop (1992). Vaughan Williams: A Life in Photographs. Page 44 Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-816296-4 .
  2. All People That on Earth Do Dwell (hymnary.org)
  3. Old Hundredth (hymnary.org)
  4. ^ Honorary Members: Ralph Vaughan Williams. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 26, 2019 .
  5. ^ ISCM Honorary Members